Ecovillage: One Step Above
Every month or so a little package arrives from Japan courtesy of Nature Bliss that contains wonderful and unexpected musical surprises. Included in the latest package were albums by Nature, Azizy, and Ecovillage, only the latter of which had received previous coverage in textura. While all three releases arrived together, they're much different from one another stylistically speaking, with the acoustic jazz quartet sound of Nature having little in common with the ambient-electronic sounds of the other two artists.
Azizy's Chelidron presents fifty-one minutes of pure chillwave serenity. Hailing from Tel Aviv, Israel, the electronic artist has produced one of the sunniest collections of pastoral instrumental music one might possibly hope to hear in this or any year. Produced between 2009 and 2012, all seven of the album's tracks were created in Azizy's bedroom. There's a freshness and purity to his luscious, synthesizer-rich sound, which is beefed up with minimal dance beats, acoustic guitar strums, string washes, and silken keyboard textures. Breezy and quietly euphoric tracks such as “Tau Hydor,” “Outdoors,” and “Sunstreams” warm the room with sunkissed splendour and synthetic radiance, and one comes away from Chelidron touched by its beauty and positivity. Thoughtfully sequenced, the album gradually works its way up to its two longest settings, the sultry dreamscape “In Consignation” and explorative slow-builder “Space Medussa Meditation.” One would have to have a cold heart indeed not to be affected by the uplifting spirit and innocent charm of Azizy's music. Think of it as a splendid remedy for staving off the creeping gloom associated with summer's end and winter's onset.
One Step Above, the third album from Ecovillage members Emil HolmstrAvm and Peter Wikstrvm, presents a change in approach from the Swedish duo's past efforts, Phoenix Asteroid (Darla Records/Quince Records, 2009) and With Fragile Wings We Reach The Sun (Parallax Sounds, 2013). Ecovillage downplays vocals on the forty-five-minute set, though Sherlie Matthews does contribute atmospheric vocal textures to two of the ten songs (singing also appears in “The Beating of Your Heart,” co-written by Ecovillage and Hjalmar Norberg), and focuses instead on minimalistic arrangements heavy on keyboards and beats. As if to accentuate the ambient-styled sensibility of the project, the group supplements its nine originals with a Markus Guentner version of the opening track and places it at the album's center rather than at the more customary end.
Certainly there is an ambient character to some of the material. Retaining little overt similarity to the original, Guentner's extensive “You Got Me” rework possesses all of the ambient sweep listeners have come to associate with his productions. Ecovillage's own “Moments of Divine Harmony” is as heavenly as its title implies, while the group's dreampop and chillwave sides emerge within the serene “It Will End in Tears” and lulling “My Secret Shelter.” But while Ecovillage might have conceived of the recording in semi-ambient terms, it's more muscular in tone than such a description would suggest. “You Got Me,” for example, receives a significant charge from a bass-throbbing pulse that's got more than a little bit of hip-hop flavour to it. Picking up where the opener leaves off, “Eternal Sunrise” undergirds its chiming keyboard, strings, and choral textures with a hefty bass-powered groove of its own. And while tracks such as “Wings of the Morning” and “Celebrate” could conceivably be classified as ambient, they're nevertheless pretty epic and robust forms of it.
Formed in 1999, Nagoya, Japan-based acoustic jazz outfit Native is now up to its tenth album with Liberation, though it's the first one to feature new pianist Koutaro Hiramatsu alongside long-standing members Tomoyoshi Nakamura (sax, flute), Kenichi Ohkubo (bass), and Yuichi Fukaya (drums). Theirs is a sound that's easy to warm up to, given its emphasis on sing-song melodic hooks and concise song structures. The title track promisingly inaugurates the forty-four-minute set with a memorable sax melody and an irrepressible, Latin-tinged groove leading the charge; “Samba de brisa” likewise showcases the group's deft handling of rhythms that lie outside of traditional jazz, strictly speaking. Breaking up the album's largely uptempo flow, hushed French vocalizing by Makiko “Machiron” Nagai appears on the ballad settings “Je suis comme je suis” and “Soupe d'amour.”
There are moments on this recording where one could be forgiven for thinking that Native's time-traveled back to the ‘60s, so firmly does the music embrace acoustic jazz conventions of the era (e.g., “Past and Future”), while “Influence From the Earth” could pass for smooth jazz if its delivery weren't so rough-edged. Some jazz groups are stronger as soloists than composers, but it's the other way around in Native's case. So while the calibre of the musicians' soloing is passable but hardly brilliant, it's the tunes that argue most strongly in the quartet's favour. As the album's playing, it's easy to picture patrons in a crowded, late-night club captivated by Native's performance, especially when its compositions are so accessible.